The “Food Education Basic Law” (The Basic Law on Shokuiku
) was enacted by the Japanese government in 2005 with the goal of promoting healthy dietary habits among the Japanese population [1
]. After the law was implemented, school-based shokuiku
programs started in various settings with both high-risk and population approaches. The school-based shokuiku
programs are performed from preschool to high school, according to the guideline of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, whereas there are no school-based shokuiku
programs during university. Students learn about diet and nutrition in their classes. The shokuiku
program is performed based on the cultural, social and industrial situations in each region. Therefore, there are some differences in the detail methods between the schools. By providing information on appropriate diets, these shokuiku
programs sought to promote food culture and to improve dietary practices and the food environment and, in turn, to help ensure adequate energy and nutrient intake and prevent lifestyle-related diseases [2
Good nutrition is essential to promoting overall health and reducing the risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases. Nutritional factors are implicated in many oral and systemic diseases, including dental caries [3
]. Dental caries is a lifestyle-related disease known to be associated with inappropriate dietary habits; it remains a common oral problem in many communities. In previous studies, the prevalence of dental caries has been associated with excessive sugar consumption and snacking habits, as well as low socioeconomic status, restricted access to dental services, and ineffective fluoride use [3
], suggesting that unhealthy dietary habits are a risk factor for increase in dental caries.
University students are typically undergoing rapid lifestyle changes due to the transition from living in a home to a school environment, in which they suddenly find themselves responsible for their own health and health-related behavior for the first time. However, it is assumed that students do not seem to generally focus on health promotion efforts due to their youth. As a result, they may develop unhealthy dietary habits. Having knowledge about shokuiku may be important in improving unhealthy dietary habits and preventing dental caries among university students.
We previously reported finding an association between shokuiku
and dental caries in a cross-sectional study [9
]. Among university students who had participated in a shokuiku
program during junior/senior high school, students who lacked knowledge about shokuiku
had higher odds for experiencing dental caries (decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT) > 0) than those who did not [9
]. Since this is a cross-sectional study, it remained unclear whether there is a causal relationship in which having knowledge about shokuiku
could help to prevent dental caries in university students. Therefore, we hypothesized that having knowledge about shokuiku
at baseline might be able to prevent the increase in dental caries. The aim of this prospective cohort study was to investigate the association between knowledge about shokuiku
and the increase in dental caries in Japanese university students.
Significant differences were observed in mean DMFT scores (±standard deviation (SD)) between baseline and re-examination in both males (1.9 ± 2.8 vs. 2.7 ± 3.3) and females (2.2 ± 2.8 vs. 3.3 ± 3.4), respectively (p < 0.001). Overall, 191 participants (34.0%) reported that they knew and could explain the meaning and content of shokuiku.
shows the results of sex differences in knowledge about shokuiku
, dietary habits, and oral health behaviors. Significant differences were found in some parameters (knowledge about shokuiku
, an irregular diet, frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, brushing teeth) between males and females (p
shows the association between knowledge about shokuiku
, dietary habits, and oral health behaviors. Those who lacked knowledge about shokuiku
snacked and/or ate at night more frequently, regardless of sex.
A significantly higher percentage of males in the group with no increase in DMFT had knowledge about shokuiku
compared with the group that had an increase in DMFT (p
= 0.020) (Table 3
). Among females, a significantly higher percentage in the group with an increase in DMFT reported frequently consuming sugar-sweetened soft drinks compared with the group with no increase in DMFT (p
= 0.035) (Table 3
In logistic regression analyses, males who had no knowledge about shokuiku
had significantly higher odds for an increase in dental caries than those who did (p
= 0.019) (Table 4
). In females, no significant association was found between knowledge about shokuiku
and an increase in DMFT score. On the other hand, the odds for an increase in dental caries in females were found to be significantly related to the frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks (p
programs aim to improve dietary practices so as to help prevent lifestyle-related diseases [2
]. In our previous cross-sectional study, we found an association between knowledge about shokuiku
and the experience of dental caries as a lifestyle-related disease [9
]. However, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first prospective cohort study investigating the association between knowledge about shokuiku
and the increase in dental caries in Japanese university students. After adjusting for potential confounders, male Japanese students at Okayama University who had no knowledge about shokuiku
were found to have significantly higher odds of an increase in dental caries than those who did. This finding suggests that poor knowledge about shokuiku
may lead to an increase in dental caries.
In addition to biological processes [15
], non-biological or socio-behavioral risk factors for dental caries have been reported [16
]. Recently, empirical attention has shifted to the relationship between dental caries and broader ecological influences such as education [8
]. Although the exact role of shokuiku
in the etiology of dental caries remains unclear, several underlying mechanisms have been proposed. Participation in shokuiku
programs led to significantly lower consumption of snack foods high in sugar among primary school children [18
], and significantly decreased consumption of soft drinks among college students [12
]. Since sugar consumption directly affects the prevalence of dental caries [19
, especially knowledge about snack food and sugar intake, may promote improved dietary habits, less sugar intake, and a lower prevalence of dental caries [9
]. In the univariate analysis (Table 2
), male participants did not show any significant relation between knowledge of shokuiku
and dietary habits. However, males who had no knowledge about shokuiku
snacked and/or ate at night more frequently (1.5 times, p
= 0.054), and actually had higher adjusted ORs for the increase in dental caries than those who had knowledge (Table 4
); these results support our hypothesis.
On the other hand, no significant relationship was observed between knowledge about shokuiku
and dental caries in females. This might be explained by the fact that females had better health behaviors than males regarding sugar intake and tooth brushing (Table 1
), which could lessen the effect of knowledge about shokuiku
on the increase in dental caries. However, further investigation is required to clarify the relationship between knowledge about shokuiku
and the increase in dental caries in females.
In females, a significant relationship was found between the odds for increase in dental caries and frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks. In a previous study, after controlling for confounders, children with the highest intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks were 2.0 to 4.6 times more likely to have severe dental caries than those with the lowest intake [21
]; this finding also supports our hypothesis.
programs in Japan and food education in other countries have led to improved dietary practices such as snacking habits [1
]. Evaluating and enhancing knowledge about shokuiku
at regular health examinations might be a useful approach to prevent dental caries, especially for male university students, who tend to develop poor dietary habits during the period of transition from the home to the school living environment [22
In this study, no relationship was found between the increase in dental caries and the use of fluoride dentifrice. This finding was inconsistent with that from a previous review [23
]. The reason for this may have been the very low usage rate of fluoride dentifrice (20.2% in males and 23.0% in females) in this study, which was remarkably lower than the recent market share of fluoridated dentifrices in Japan (about 90%) [24
]. It is possible that many students do not actually know whether they use fluoride dentifrice [9
In this study, mean DMFT scores (±SD) at baseline and re-examination were 2.1 ± 2.8 and 3.1 ± 3.4, respectively, in the university students aged 18 to 24 years. Although the sample size, decade, and race in the present study differed from those in previous studies comprising young adults aged 15 to 24 years [26
], the mean DMFT scores were within the same range. However, the mean DMFT scores in this study were lower than those reported in a Japanese national survey of dental diseases in 2005 (3.2 ± 3.9 for those aged 15–19 years; 5.9 ± 4.8 for those aged 20–24 years) [28
]. This difference may be explained by differences in education level [29
Our study did have some limitations. First, since the follow-up rate was low, a selection bias may have been present; this could lead to an over- or under-estimation of the true relationship. In this study, a statistically significant difference in DMFT scores at baseline was found between participants who were and were not followed up (2.6 ± 3.2 vs.
2.1 ± 2.8, respectively) (p
< 0.001). The participants who were followed up may have been healthier than the whole population; therefore, the results of this single study should be interpreted with some caution. Second, we did not consider possible confounders such as bacterial factors [15
], salivary factors [15
], social capital [30
] or socioeconomic status [8
] in this study. Future studies are needed to assess the effects of these factors. Third, all participants were recruited from among students at Okayama University, which may limit the ability to extrapolate these findings to the general population of young people. Fourth, we did not confirm that knowing about shokuiku
correctly reflected actual dietary habits. It is possible that one student may state knowing about the shokuiku
program without having information, whereas another student may state not being familiar with the terminology but may still have knowledge about healthy dietary habits. Finally, we could not investigate the change in confounding variables during the three years, which may be a potential source of bias. However, there are no school-based shokuiku
programs during university, which could lessen the effect of later exposure on outcome.